Picks and Pans Review: The Ecleftic

updated 09/04/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Wyclef Jean (Columbia)

Haitian-born Wyclef Jean is one of the rare artists who appeals equally to the hip-hop nation's sometimes clashing factions—East Coast vs. West Coast, North vs. South, jewel-encrusted "playas" vs. incense burning poets. Whether recording as one-third of the Grammy-winning Fugees or solo (1997's Wyclef Jean Presents The Carnival), Jean has used his albums as a bully pulpit for his questioning, uplifting raps. But he never forgets that a message without a beat is often ignored. So when Jean rails against the glorification of gangsta life, on The Ecleftic's "Thug Angels," he sets his sermon to the jacked-up rhythms of hot Southern rap. His edgy, self-reflective soliloquy on "Pullin' Me In" pairs up with a rugged rhythm that's just right for blasting from a jeep. The album leaps gracefully from ska to rock to R&B to reggae and protest music (on "Diallo," a hushed elegy to the African immigrant gunned down by New York City police in 1999). Jean's delivery sounds uncomfortably similar to Bob Marley's, and he makes his points over and over again. But these are minor distractions from the intelligence that permeates this strong, complex collection.

Bottom Line: Statesmanship you can dance to

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